Knights players behind their goal line after conceding a try to the Roosters. Picture: Jonathan CarrollIF the Knights finish the season with the wooden spoon, departing forward Clint Newton reckons they will have earned it.
Despite a frantic flurry of 22 points midway through the second half, when they rallied from a 32-0 deficit, the Knights suffered a 38-22 loss to Sydney Roosters at Hunter Stadium last Sunday to remain in the NRL cellar.
Newton believes they deserve to be last and that is where they will stay unless there is a change of attitude, application and attention to detail in their last four games.
Newcastle were tied with Wests Tigers on 16 points heading into the Tigers’ game against the Raiders in Canberra on Monday night but the Knights (minus-154) had an inferior points differential to the Tigers (minus-81).
The Tigers’ 20-18 victory means the Knights must beat them at Campbelltown on Saturday to join them on 18 points, but Newcastle will still have a job on their hands to close the for-and-against points gap with three rounds remaining.
Penrith (minus-87) and Gold Coast (minus-163) are also in the spoon battle on 18 points.
Newton said coach Danny Buderus had a simple message to the players at a team meeting after their recovery session on Monday morning: “Stay in the fight”.
“We can put up the white flag and say we’ll pack up stumps for the rest of the year or you can keep fighting. I know for me personally, giving up is not an option, but at the end of the day you’ve got to start to think when is the penny going to drop,” Newton said.
“Some people say it’s been unlucky in certain aspects this season but I’m a massive believer in you finish where you deserve to finish. We deserve to be last, there’s no doubt about that, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to stay where we are.
“We need to do the right things to get ourselves into a position to win football games, and who knows what will happen, but right now, we deserve to be where we are.”
After playing the Tigers, Newcastle will finish against the Storm (away), Bulldogs (home) and Panthers (away), but Newton said they could not look past the trip to Campbelltown.
“It’s certainly a massive game but we can’t be thinking two, three weeks down the track about where we might finish,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re in a position to give ourselves a chance to win this game, and that all comes from training, recognising the mistakes, holding people to account for the errors that they make, then turning up on Saturday with a mindset of giving ourselves an opportunity to win the game.
“If you don’t do that, whether you’re playing the Wests Tigers or whether you’re playing South Newcastle Lions, you can’t win if you don’t actually have a fair amount of possession.”
Newton is one of several senior players in their final season with the Knights. The 34-year-old former Country Origin and USA Tomahawks representative is retiring, skipper Kurt Gidley will join English club Warrington, Beau Scott will continue his career at Parramatta and David Fa’alogo has already retired because of a neck injury.
After their decision a fortnight ago to sack Rick Stone as coach and appoint Buderus as caretaker for the rest of the season, Knights management are considering showing other players the door as part of a review of all football staff.
Newton described the team’s performance against the Roosters as “60 minutes of pretty awful footy and 20 minutes of some quality”.
“Every week we’re behind and it’s not good enough at NRL level,” he said.
“This game is far too hard to every week have to come back from 12, 18, 20, 26 points, and then expect to have enough petrol in the tank at the end of the game to win the game.
“It’s all well and good to fight back – that’s fine. You can’t lose the game in the first 20 but you can certainly make it very difficult to have any chance of winning the game.”
Newton said the team’s long-suffering fans deserved better than what the Knights produced in the first 41 minutes against the Roosters.
“It’s unacceptable – it has been unacceptable all year. There’s nothing else you can say other than we’ve got to do better, and we’ll certainly try and do better,” he said.
Newcastle’s second-half resurgence was another example of their attacking potential when they controlled the ball and “that’s been the case for the whole season”.
“I think you see nearly every round, there’s been a momentum swing in nearly every game, and that’s the way it is at the moment with interchange, possession, fatigue and all those sort of things,” he said. “But what players have to understand is you can’t come from behind then try and get in front and still have enough energy to go again because it’s just too hard when you’re playing against good football sides.”